Monday, December 13, 2021

Sean, Gina, and $50 Million

Sean Connery as Tony.
Wheelchair-bound Charles Richmond mistreats his servants, bullies his adult nephew, and fosters tyranny wherever he goes. He is also worth $50 million.

With his inheritance limited to a mere $650,000, nephew Tony Richmond (Sean Connery) hatches a scheme to increase his share of the estate. He carefully selects a new nurse that will appeal to his uncle: an Italian beauty named Maria unwilling to tolerate Charles' cruelty. Her defiance and Tony's open criticism of her combine to peak Charles' interest. Tony is convinced that he can manipulate his uncle into marrying Maria (Gina Lollobrigida). She reluctantly agrees to Tony's plan--but who can trust whom?

Gina Lollobrigida as Maria.
Made in 1964, Woman of Straw is the kind of low-key thriller that Alfred Hitchcock might have made twenty years earlier. It's a tribute to the cast that they make the plot's double-crossing shenanigans interesting for most of the two-hour running time. Ralph Richardson is in top form as the despicable Charles, who shows no signs of humanity until he gradually develops feelings for Maria. Gina Lollobrigida is convincing, too, as the conflicted Maria who loses her taste for the scheme, but can't resist her attraction to Mark and his ambitions.

Ralph Richardson as Charles.
By today's standards, the biggest star in Woman of Straw is Sean Connery. But, in 1964, he was on the brink of international superstardom pending the release of Goldfinger later that year. He is adequate as the cold and calculating Mark, who somehow never elicits audience sympathy even after he reveals that Charles drove his father to suicide and then married his mother! It doesn't help that Connery's character fades to the background during the film's middle portion as the focus shifts to the Charles-Maria relationship.

Veteran director Basil Dearden takes advantage of the colorful locations shot in Majorca, Spain (though the use of rear screens in some scenes is distracting). However, he loses control of the film during its rambling final thirty minutes. There's really no reason for a movie like Woman of Straw to be two hours in length! One would think that Dearden, who directed such marvelous, efficient thrillers as Victim (1961), would know this. Additionally, it doesn't help that the climatic scene is a headscratcher that left my wife and me trying to figure out what happened.

The best reason to watch Woman of Straw is to see Gina Lollobrigida give one of her best English-language performances. Once dubbed "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World" (instead of Sophia Loren?), she had won several acting awards for her Italian films prior to Woman of Straw. It's unfortunate that she rarely got roles worthy of her talents in other English-language movies. She deserved better than being cast in light comedies opposite American stars like Rock Hudson and Bob Hope.

1 comment:

Silver Screenings said...

I'm going to track this one down, just because of Ralph Richardson. Your mention of the puzzling climax has piqued my interest, too.